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August 20, 2011


mencken on my mind

by Andrea O'Connell

I had Mencken on my mind today.  I read him today until my eyes stung.

Although I have not read very many of Henry Louis Mencken‘s books, essays or articles, I have read enough to appreciate his point of view.

He was a passionate enthusiast of the First Amendment, and rightfully so.  He spent a good part of his life writing for the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

He was and still is known as “a man of ideas,” since he frequently espoused ideas and ideals that could be considered controversial.

I found the following quote from Mencken especially interesting.  At first I looked at these words with the Casey Anthony trial in mind, since the Burden of Proof, liberty, and law is, seemingly, a part of his argument.

But Mencken is not referring to criminality.  What is he referring to here?  Is it prejudice, honesty and truth, or something else?

Writer H.L. Mencken. Photo credit:

I believe in liberty. And when I say liberty, I mean the thing in its widest imaginable sense — liberty up to the extreme limits of the feasible and tolerable.  I am against forbidding anybody to do anything, or say anything, or think anything so long as it is at all possible to imagine a habitable world in which he would be free to do, say, and think it. The burden of proof, as I see it, is always upon the policeman, which is to say, upon the lawmaker, the theologian, the right-thinker. He must prove his case doubly, triply, quadruply, and then he must start all over and prove it again. The eye through which I view him is watery and jaundiced. He is the enemy of everything I admire and respect in this world — of everything that makes it various and amusing and charming. He impedes every honest search for the truth. He stands against every sort of good-will and common decency. I am against him until the last galoot’s ashore.
H.L Mencken, 1923

Do you think Mencken hated law, law enforcement, clergy, or conservatism when you read this quote?  I’d love to hear what you think.

So, that’s it for me tonight.  I will write more about Mencken another day.  As for today, it’s “rest-up” day, which means reading, napping and a lot of thinking.

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 20 2011

    He was a fan of “God is Dead” Neitche. He had no love for religion or for there being a need to worship or fear or even believe in (a) God. He considered that all theologians were of the Duke and Duaphin ilk (of most televangelists, I agree!). He thought himself too intellectual to stoop to such beliefs. His quote is more of a mocking of those who believe in moral absolutes and religion, imo.

    Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV

    The world considers worshiping God a foolish thing…a thing only the unlearned and poor would do because they are unlearned and poor. After all, these wise intellects believe, these people are too stupid to do otherwise.

    The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have? Jeremiah 8:9

    On another note, it seems that Menken was duplicitous-double minded. Was he an anti-semite and racist, or not? Some of the things he has said, according to the source you provided, makes him out to be bigoted, yet others have quoted him as defending the rights of Jews and Blacks. I guess I could read more of him to decide that conundrum I see him in.

    • Aug 21 2011

      Hi Sherry, Yes, Mencken was an atheist, but he was also a wonderfully wise, liberal minded, and not trusting that “God” is the driver of the bus, or the creator of things. He asks the question, like Clarence Darrow does, “If God created the world, who created God?” He believed that all persons had the right to believe in any religion or not, and that to be a non believer was to have an expansive curiosity about the meaning of life, and to question everything, not with disdain, but with wanting to understand. Mencken believed that those who do not research beyond the closed theory of religion, are not allowing themselves to accept or see the world as it is, versus believing in a God who may not exist. He discusses that since the Bible is only a couple of thousand of years old, written by many different persons, how can it be the word of God? The planet is billions of years old, and because there is evidence of evolution, when did God decide we need an Adam? How did God take Adam’s rib out? Did Eve just appear from a rib bone? Why would a learned God tell Adam/Eve not to eat from the tree of Knowledge? Was knowledge a sin? If so, why was God afraid of knowledge?

      • Aug 21 2011

        Once enlightened by the truth it is foolish to explore other understandings of “truths”. Truth remains true whether you believe it or not. In the end, it will be truth, not beliefs, that will ultimately matter. men do so love to gamble with their eternal souls in the name of being intellectual…

        God wasn’t afraid of knowledge-how blasphemously absurd. He, the All Knowing God, knew what the knowledge of evil would do to His creation and we see exactly what it is to this day-sin.

        BTW, the ones who are closed minded are those who do not believe in God. Kinda like Relativists who believe their pet theory absolutely. It all comes down to the pride of man not wanting to admit that they are sinners destined to an eternal hell apart from Christ Jesus who came to save men’s souls.

        God is God, the Creator, not a created being. I laugh at that one being an excuse to not believe in a Supreme Being!

      • Aug 21 2011

        BTW, the blindness I had concerning how the world really is was lifted in an instant as soon as I confessed my need for a Savior, namely Jesus, the Christ. Sin blinds through pride. Being born of the Holy Spirit reveals the world as it really is. There’s no other way no matter how long you search for it.

      • Aug 21 2011

        The planet is billions of years old, and because there is evidence of evolution, when did God decide we need an Adam?

        No proof of evolution. No proof of the earth being billions of years old-what fables! Evolution shoots itself in the foot when it states that only the fittest survive-every mutation in the evolution cycle makes it unfit to survive. Primordial soup, as created in a lab, is unfit for life giving. The Big bang theory is a joke since no explosion has ever created order but only chaos. These would not be theories if there was proof they are true.

        {sigh} Universities used to teach about God and how sciences were for the proof of an Intelligent being behind the intrinsically beautiful order of creation…then came along Thomas Payne and his Age of Reason. A born again beleiver cannot read that book without laughter and grieving of heart…

      • Aug 21 2011

        He (Menken) discusses that since the Bible is only a couple of thousand of years old, written by many different persons, how can it be the word of God?

        What a fraud if he says this! he certainly knew nothing of the Bible and did not do his research! How dare he lecture his readers about being closed minded if they do not search things out when he has closed his own mind on the Bible? Did he not study the history of the Bible? Unreal! 🙄

        That alone makes me close the book on him when he calls himself a seeker yet doesn’t seek.

      • Aug 21 2011

        That’s certainly true, Sherry! But, I don’t really know what his experiences with the bible were, whether he read it or not. Obviously he believed in evolution, and wrote famously about the Scopes Trial..
        I believe his questions regarding the Bible have to do with questioning where God and the Bible were when the universe was formed. I surely don’t have the answer!

      • Aug 21 2011

        I am curious about his writings concerning politics. i may very well agree with him in that respect. I certainly was in agreement with him somewhat when he mentioned the Duke and Dauphin characters of his day. We do see that even today.

  2. Aug 21 2011

    Andrea, this was a great brain tease! I think he may be refering to protecting people’s rights.

    • Aug 21 2011

      Hi RahRah, yes that is exactly what he is saying! He was speaking about Civil rights and freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and having an open mind to all things….

  3. Aug 21 2011

    Wait a minute! Is he promoting the Prohibition Enactment?

  4. Aug 21 2011

    Well for one thing, he sounds as if he would have voted Casey innocent, based on his theories of the law. If his intellect was used in a parental nature, then indeed he would have brought to this world another such CASEY to roam the streets. I am not so concerned about his religious beliefs as I am about his intellectual understanding of the world, without rules. If the rule of law is his enemy, would it not be confusing as to why he was studied in University? Why on earth would this man be so highly regarded? I’ll stick to the bible any day of the week.

    • Aug 21 2011

      LOL! Weezie, Go back and read once more…. I think, though I could be wrong, too, but I think he’s talking about an open society that only fears; that people should only fear law when it’s absolutely proven. Also, he is speaking of the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, that the First Amendment offers….. He was a profound and prolific scholar and writer, though he was an atheist, he always listened to others.

  5. Faith
    Aug 21 2011

    Dearest Andrea

    Interesting post and excellent comments,as slways.
    From what little of Mr. Mencken’s writing you posted I have little interest in reading anything he writes. The wisdom(?) of the world is all around me and the total lack of love or respect most people have for each other and themselves continues to convince me that what time I may have left is better spent with study of the Book.

    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Pr 1:7 KJV

    Thanks again for all you do.

    • Aug 21 2011

      Hi Faith, Yes, Mencken was an atheist, but he was so much more, too. I cannot have disdain for anyone because of his or her religious beliefs. If Mencken were alive today, he would be writing about the separation of church and state and how that line may be getting dangerously erased.

      Mencken, and others like him, including Victor Hugo, Clarence Darrow, Susan B. Anthony, William Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Carl Sagan, Eleanor and Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, and so many more, have great expansive minds who inform and enrich us with their diversity of thought and their openness.

      I really, really enjoy reading the thoughts and the perspectives of the great minds that I’ve listed.. 🙂

      • Aug 21 2011

        That seperation of church and state is not in any document of the United States. There was more church inviolvement in the state’s affairs in menken’s day then there is now so why did he not speak up then?

      • Aug 21 2011

        The First Amendment is where the separation of church and state is discussed, It’s central to our democracy, allowing one the right of religious liberty. The founding fathers wanted a wall between the church and the state, originally, to guard against the government taking over religious expression / freedom to believe in what ever God one wants to believe in.

        The founding fathers saw the danger of the church and state connecting and warned against it for obvious reasons…..

      • Aug 21 2011

        The definition of the First Amendment’s “wall of seperation’ is interpreted to mean that Govornment shall not mandate a State religion as was the case in England which bounced back and forth from Protestantism and Catholocism as the State religion. People today have perverted that to mean that the church must butt out of state affairs-have no say in it. And, that there should be no mention of God in government affairs by government servants.

        “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free expression of religion is part of the meaning of that seperation of church and state. Yet there is a campaign to wipe out all mention of God in any public venue.

        I’m surprised that there is mention of God in U.S. documents and on old government buildings if today’s definition is the true one.

  6. Aug 21 2011

    No, Faith, please don’t go! Man cannot live by bread alone! (Is Menchen refering to censorship?)

  7. Aug 21 2011

    The “separation of church and state” phrase gets thrown around frequently as a first amendment issue, but you’d be surprised to see the phrase doesn’t appear where it’s frequently credited—in the first amendment to the Constitution.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Whoops — the magic phrase doesn’t appear. Notice what the amendment does say regarding religion:
    •Congress shall not force (establish) a national religion.
    •Congress shall not prohibit or restrict freedom to worship or other expressions of religion.

    The founders wanted to make sure no one either forced a particular religion nationally, or prevented anyone from worshiping whatever they wanted. If you’re a Christian, great, if you follow Buddha, no problem — if you’re a druid and worship trees, good for you. If you’re an atheist and worship Darwin and Dawkins, glad that’s working out for you.

    But we are not to have a national religion run by the federal government—a theocracy if you will. Yet many people attempting to force the country into an atheist secular humanist mold dwell on the first part of the amendment, and forget the second.

  8. Hilde
    Aug 22 2011

    Wow, Sherry, I am impressed with All Your Comments! 🙂
    Myself I do know what my Belief is and who my higher Power is, which is God!
    At the same time I respect the Right of Others to choose their Religion or no Religion.
    I have many Friends who do have different Outlooks when it comes to Religion. I look at how they live their Life’s, that is what counts for me.
    I am Catholic and I believe there will come a time, we All have to account for the Way we lived our Life and how we treated Others.
    As for the Writer H.L. Mencken, I must admit I am not familiar with his Books.
    What I did read about his writing on Your Post is somewhat confusing to me.
    It seems at least to me in his Writing there is Double Talk present which
    leaves me not knowing exactly where he really stands in his Beliefs.
    Again, I admit I just read what You shared with us about him on this Post.
    Interesting never less. JMO

    • Aug 22 2011

      Thank You, Hilde! God bless you~ :mrgreen:

      I think I’m through debating here though.


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